See Part 1 and Part 2 here.
Throughout this campaign, it’s been seen as something of a truism that Senator Barack Obama is weak among white working-class males. Certainly Hillary Clinton was able to appeal more directly to that group, and the McCain-Palin ticket has continued to exploit that weakness. And in my brief canvassing experience, it became pretty clear that Obama’s support among this demo is pretty limited. In poor neighborhoods, Obama support was robust; in rich and upper-middle-class ones, it seemed almost a fifty-fifty split between the two parties. In working- and lower-middle-class areas, McCain support seemed much more robust, based on yard signs and other visible indicators. Obama may have made some inroads into this sector, but he’s still struggling.
At this point, I don’t think too many minds are going to be changed. And McCain, in his “Joe the Plumber” approach is clearly—and I suspect successfully—appealing to this group. And one troubling (for Obama) point about “Joe,” is that he represents a much broader definition of “white working class male.” Joe seemed to admit to making close to $250K, putting him in a pretty nice income bracket, especially for Ohio. When McCain sarcastically said, “Congratulations, Joe, you’re rich,” he could have been playing it straight. Of course, reality is much more complicated; Joe now claims to be earning much less. However, by implying that you could make $250K and still be “working class,” McCain has embraced a whole group of largely ignored voters: successful whites who don’t think of themselves as rich. These are the folks who started out in Brooklyn apartments and now have big houses on Staten Island; they’re the ones who rose through the ranks in fields like contracting, sales and, yes, plumbing, and now do very well, but still think of themselves as working class, based on their roots and career paths.
The good news for Obama, if Staten Island is any indication, is that this group already votes Republican; they were never in contention to begin with. The bad news is that, even when Obama’s policies might actually help them, they’re still likely to vote for McCain no matter what. Just look at Joe, himself. In an interview this morning, he admitted to making much less than $250K, which means he’d actually benefit from Obama’s tax plan. Yet, while refusing to say who he’d vote for, he praised McCain as having some “real solid points” in the debate, and called Obama’s health-care plan “one more step toward socialism.” Joe may be officially undecided, but his real intentions are clear. He falls into the faux undecided camp that I discussed earlier. Obama won’t win him over, and at this point, I suspect he’s going to stop trying. The non-union white-working class will vote Republican, if they vote at all, and Obama will need to make up those votes with other groups.